It’s hardly a secret that through the years, Megadeth has had its share of internal tensions and various other issues (such as long-running substance abuse problems and conflicts with managers and record labels). Since releasing its famous 1985 debut, “Killing Is My Business…and Business Is Good,” the veteran metal outfit has gone through 14 band members, and at one point around 2002, front man Dave Mustaine was emphatically saying he was going to break up the group and go solo.
He changed his mind, as he told this writer in a 2004 interview, after seeing how enthusiastic concert audiences were about Megadeth.
And now, with its latest CD, “Thirt3en,” having been released in 2011, the band - which returns Saturday night to the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach - seems to be as unified and inspired as it’s been in years.
In 2010, Mustaine welcomed back founding member and bassist Dave Ellefson, who was let go in 2002, when Mustaine also dismissed drummer Jimmy DeGrasso and guitarist Al Pitrelli and seemingly was making good on his promise to end the band entirely.
It was an ugly separation, complete with a lawsuit by Ellefson (more on that later), but the two mended fences, and Mustaine now says things in Megadeth are stable, positive and substance-free all the way around.
“We’re doing really good right now.” Mustaine said, including guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover in the equation. “And everybody’s got a sense of humor. We’re getting along. Our kids are getting along. The wives all get along. Before when we used to go out on tour, we would all get together in Los Angeles, and all the guys in the band would be like ‘Yeah, yeah, let’s go,’ because we all had all of our party favors all stocked up and we were ready to go. And all the girlfriends were enabling us. And then it was a couple of years later where the girlfriends weren’t enabling us, and it was time for us to go and a couple of people were sober, and a couple of people didn’t want to be sober, and that was pretty much the beginning of the end, house of cards falling.
“It’s totally different now,” he said. “Everybody does what they want to do. Everybody is very healthy and we all get along really well. I mean, there’s a little bit of some stuff, like Shawn and Chris and David and I, we’re all different kinds of guys, and we all like our privacy and different degrees of it. There is (different) stuff we like to do. Chris likes to be into extreme sports. I like watching the news.”
Obviously, all four band members are giving each other space to be themselves, and enjoying each other’s company – and musical talents – when they’re in the same room or on the same stage.
Want more evidence that Megadeth has found its stride both personally and musically? Look no further than “Thirt3en.”
Because of the band’s busy schedule, Mustaine and his band mates had eight weeks to write and record the songs that make up “Thirt3en.” The fact that the group pulled it off says something about the personal chemistry today’s Megadeth enjoys, Mustaine said.
“I think a lot of that happening that quickly was we were just inspired,” he said. “We had music that we wanted to get out. We knew we had a short period of time, and everybody was working really well together. If the guys don’t get along together, it doesn’t matter how much time you have, you know what I mean?”
What also helped is that Mustaine had a few older song ideas that he was able to revisit for “Thirt3en” and turn into finished recordings.
“‘New World Order’ was a song that I had written back when (drummer) Nick Menza was in the band,” Mustaine said, mentioning the band’s drummer from 1989-1998 (and briefly during 2004). “He and I wrote that together and we had recorded it and it never was sufficient, at least as an official recording…I picked the songs that I knew that I had that weren’t finished and would require a couple of minutes to get them done, but way less than having to start from scratch because they were great songs. ‘Millennium of the Blind’ was another one of those songs that I drew from. Then ‘Black Swan’ is the last one that is one of those songs from another record.”
The 13 songs that made “Thirt3en” form a cohesive record that has been hailed as one of Megadeth’s better efforts taking the band’s sound back toward its harder-edged metal roots after a brief period when the band pursued a more melodic and mainstream rock sound (on the 1997 CD “Cryptic Writings” and especially 1999’s “Risk”). Those albums failed to expand Megadeth’s audience and disappointed a good number of the group’s core fans. And after “Risk,” Mustaine, who had bowed to the wishes of his former label, Capitol Records, management and his guitarist, Marty Friedman, in exploring the more melodic sound, reasserted his control over the band.
Friedman left the band, and every Megadeth CD since has had more of a hard-hitting metal sound. That’s certainly true of “Thirt3en,” which comes thundering out of the gate with “Sudden Death,” a song with pummeling drums and plenty of fleet-fingered guitar work from Broderick. Other tracks, such as “Public Enemy No. 1,” “Guns, Drugs & Money” and “Black Swan” figure to please fans with their combination of intensity, musicianship and just enough melody.
What also seems to be pleasing fans is the return of Ellefson, who had a bitter split with Mustaine in 2002 when the singer/guitarist thought he was ready to go solo. Ellefson eventually sued Mustaine for $18.5 million, claiming he was shortchanged on royalties and other income. The suit was dismissed in January 2005. Few thought that Ellefson would ever be in Megadeth again.
But one person who believed it could happen was Drover. He lobbied Mustaine repeatedly to reach out to Ellefson. And when the band decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Rust In Peace,” the 1990 offering many consider to be the definitive Megadeth album, with a 2010 tour in which the band would play that CD in its entirety, Mustaine agree to get in touch with his former long-time bassist.
“He had apologized for what had happened with the lawsuit. And I said I forgive you,” Mustaine said. “There were times when I was very upset and there were times when I was very emotionally upset. And it was very painful to know that all of our dirty laundry had been brought up for the world to see. But more importantly, there was some pain because I lost my friend. Now everything is resolved and it’s fun and we get along really good now, probably better than we did before because there are no ill-conceived notions.”
With Megadeth seemingly hitting on all cylinders, the group is back on tour, this time celebrating the 25th anniversary of "Countdown To Extinction" by playing that classic album (which followed
"Rust In Peace") in its entirety during the shows. Mustaine likes where the band is now.
“Megadeth had been very, very stable for awhile now,” Mustaine said. “He (Ellefson) didn’t have to worry about any of the problems we had before, and he was excited about that, and I was excited about it. And we started playing together and it just sounded good. You just know when something is good.”